The Implications of a melting Arctic: Introduction
The arctic region, a vast array covered in ice, dominated by frigid temperatures, gusty winds combining to provide conditions where few can survive may now be open for business. Environmental scientists have flooded the news with the effects of climate change in the area noting the significant reduction of ice-caps, the dramatic degradation of nature and the potential irreversible loss of many animals, especially the polar bears. While the environmentalists have been desperately attempting to “save” the arctic, there is another issue that faces the arctic. With ice-caps melting and retreating to unprecedented levels, the arctic sea-bed is now open for nations to explore its reported vast amount of natural resources. Through the reduction of ice in the ocean, the world will not only see a change in the world’s environment, but also a potential re-ordering of the world’s international trade, shipping distances would be reduced by thousands of miles for ships sailing from the U.S with Russia, China, major European ports, and vice-versa. This is a historical landmark equal to, if not greater than, the creation of the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal. In this series the security, economic and geo-political implication of the current arctic meltdown will be analyzed. The series will examine issues regarding the ownership of the arctic resources, the existing treaties between nations and the potential for International conflict over the exploitation of natural resources of the arctic.
Methodology and Research
Exploring a topic this large and multi-disciplinary requires looking into the different fields that it addresses. The author first began research by looking into existing reports and analysis conducted into the reduction of ice in the arctic oceans and the retraction of icecaps. The author will mainly focus on estimates made on when the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free and whether the reduction will be significant enough to be able to utilize the Arctic Ocean as a potential shipping route. Following the research made on the projections for an ice-free arctic; the author looked into several geological reports and assessments made by governments and organizations in regards to the natural resource potential of the area. The research focused on the assessments made by the U.S Geological survey. The U.S geological survey is crucial for this series as it identifies one of the most important dynamics of this research which is the control over undiscovered but recoverable natural resources and what it could mean for the area’s security, environment and development.
While dealing with ownership right and control over natural resources, the research has led the author to examine “the Law of Sea” Treaty (LOST) and specifically examining the Territorial waters rules but most importantly the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) specific areas of the treaty. The Exclusive Economic Zone is one of the other main dynamics to this series focuses on. The problem that arctic nations face is ownership over natural resources in disputed areas due to oil and gas fields expanding from one nation’s EEZ to the other.
When considering any topic that discusses natural resources, ownerships rights and major changes in the international trade system, it is only logical to look into the security aspect. In an area as vital as the Arctic Ocean, concerns over security and a new type of arms race has led the author to look into researching military expenses and actions being taken by the Arctic nations. The author has looked into research made by Scott G. Borgerson, visiting fellow for the council on foreign relations and expert on oceanic governance, on the foreign policy implications of the melting arctic, his research and assessments have been very influential for this series. Borgerson is considered one of the leading experts and researchers on this topic and has held roundtable discussions on Strategic Ocean governance.
This series will look to examine research made on potential Geo-political shift due to the opening of the arctic oceans; looking into how the United States will cope with having to worry about threats coming from the north, mainly looking at military expenditures and the implications of a much more “aggressive” Canadian policy. The research will also look into examining the development of Russia’s power potential as the Russian territory both sea and ground will become less volatile and fairly accessible. Lastly, the case of Greenland and calls for independence will be briefly examined as Greenland could become the first nation to become independent in the modern era of the Arctic.
Definition of the Area
This series will utilize the term North Arctic route as a generic term to describe the potential shipping routes that are in question in this area. There is a distinction between the two main shipping routes that are commonly discussed: The northern sea route which is defined as the route that stretches from Novaya Zemlya islands in the west to the Bering Strait in the east (official Russian definition) and the Northern sea passage a transit route north of Russia linking together the Northern Atlantic and Northern Pacific Oceans through the Bering Strait, along the mainland of Alaska and Canada, going through the Davis Strait to reach the Atlantic ocean. The different routes each have their own benefits; however for the purposes of this series, it will look to examine the combined potential and implications of utilizing the two shipping routes rather than looking into each route specifically.
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